!http://www.active.com/Assets/Cycling/RobKlingensmith.jpg|style=padding:10px;|align=left|src=http://www.active.com/Assets/Cycling/RobKlingensmith.jpg!What’s it really like to ride a stage of the Tour de France? On Monday morning, I’ll be learning the answer to that question first-hand.
Each year, the organizers of the Tour de France offer a citizen’s ride called "l’Etape du Tour"
the stage of the Tourover the exact route of an actual stage of the race. And just to remind us amateurs that le Tour is serious business, they have a habit of choosing the most difficult stage for the event.
This year “the Etape” will be contested on Monday, July 16 (the Tour de France’s first rest day), over the route of Stage 15 from Foix to Loudenvielle. These 196 kilometers (122 miles) feature no less than 14,000 feet of climbing up five major mountain passes of the Pyrenees, including the 20-kilometer hors catégorie Port de Balès.
The Etape is limited to 8,500 riders, 5,000 of whom are French. The remaining slots are filled primarily by Europeans. Entries into the Etape are as difficult to obtain as those to the NYC Marathon or Ironman Triathlon, so those who have a confirmed start have prepared quite seriously and now are anxiously awaiting Monday morning’s starting gun.
I’ll be riding with a group of Americans and Canadians organized by the Iowa-based tour company Velo Echappé. Included in our group is my Active.com blogging colleague Marty Dugard and Sports Illustrated writer Austin Murphy. I don’t want to say that we’re racing each other, but I suspect that future bar bills and bragging rights are at stake.
After arriving in Toulouse on Friday, I’ve spent the last couple of days getting organized and spinning the jet lag out of my legs on my new Cervélo SLC-SL. This is a bit embarrassing. Of course I’m thrilled to be riding what many consider to be the best bike in the peloton, but therein lies the problem: I feel a bit of pressure to live up to the bike. After all, this is the same rig that Frank Schleck rode to victory on Alpe d’Huez last year, and Fabian Cancellara rode to his second stage win in this year’s Tour.
It’s Sunday night in France, so I’d better attempt to grab a few hours of sleep before our 4 a.m. wake-up call. Check back to learn how we fared, and if we’ve been able to complete just one mountain stage of the Tour de France.
Rob Klingensmith is an avid recreational cyclist and an executive at Active.com. Rob will provide a unique perspective on what it's like to be inside some of the most decisive stages of the Tour.